“Fact-checking”(is)—a stage in the editorial process where someone attempts independent confirmation of every “fact” in an author’s manuscript before its publication—  Source:  Adventures in Fact-checking: Are You Completely Bald? by Richard Blow and Ari Posner, September 26, 1988

In the old days of print, fact-checking involved the collaborative efforts of the writer/reporter, an editor and a fact-checker; today’s journalist (and that includes you) is expected to be all of the above. Journalists are keenly aware that in the age of the Internet, and the 24-hour news cycle, the thing that sells, and that will have readers returning, is credibility; the onus of responsibility rests with the writer, and he or she is expected to produce stories with facts that are accurate, supported by documentary evidence and with sources of the highest authority.

While there is no formula for fact-checking, I suggest you employ the same strategy you’ve used when doing a news or background search:  have a plan.    

Research 

As you gather the sources that support the facts of your story, keep a thorough record of all your research – photographs, transcripts, videos, tweets, articles from your clip search, email addresses, phoners, web contact. etc.; you will save considerable time when you begin to fact-check your piece, and there’s always the chance that you may need to turn over your files to legal counsel.

(At TIME magazine, reporters’ files (called ‘carbons’) are kept for 13 months post production)

What Should You Fact-check?

  • Titles
  • Place and People Names
  • Quotations
  • Birthdates/ages (common errors)
  • Distance
  • Statistics
  • Historical Facts
  • Dates (common errors)
  • References to Time or Weather
  • Superlatives (caution)
  • Physical Descriptions
  • Captions
  • Gender (names can mislead)

What types of sources should you use when fact-checking your reporting?

  • Make every effort to use primary sources for fact-checking.  If your source brings  particular bias, and he or she is a crucial element in the telling of this story, it’s incumbent on you to make your readers aware of this.  Reporters covering the war in Syria and in Iraq are confronted daily with the reality that they will be getting information from sources with clear partisan agenda. 
  • When relying on secondary sources, be sure that your sources are credible, well-respected and unbiased.
  • Take full advantage of the database resources of the J-School’s Research Center, and don’t forget about the valuable collections available from your public library   .

Types of Primary Sources (Original Documents)

Primary sources provide first hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation.  They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the event or conditions being documented.  http://www.yale.edu/collections_collaborative/primarysources/primarysources.html

  • Speeches
  • Autobiographies
  • Diaries
  • E-mail
  • YouTube videos
  • Interviews
  • Letters
  • DNA evidence
  • Minutes of a community board meeting
  • Documentary film footage
  • Official records (birth certificates, marriage licenses)
  • Photographs
  • Tweets
  • Buildings
  • Works of Art, Drama
  • Government Documents

 

A Selection of Primary Reference Sources: 

NYC’s Independent Budget Office

if you are looking for recent figures on the City’s cost of housing the homeless, or if education is your beat and you’re trying to find figures on spending by school district  then the Independent Budget Office ought to be the a source you immediately check out.   City of New York Publicly-funded agency.  Provides reviews of the NYC’s budget; issues reports, economic forecasts and analyses of public policy issues. Have a look at the recent releases.

The Mayor’s Management Report

The Mayor’s Managemet Report provides a report of the first full year of data concerning our Mayor’s stewardship of the City’s residents ad resources

Checkbook NYC

Checkbook NYC is a solid primary source for following the City’s day-to-day spending by way of an online transparency tool.  New Yorkers and others now have access to the current financial condition of the City; one can now find the names of the City’s prime vendors, contract amounts and amount spent by the city for contracted work on taxpayer-funded projects. 

Bronx Borough President’s Office

The office of the Bronx Borough President is as close as you are going to get to the workings of Bronx city government.   

Quinnipiac University Poll

The Quinnipiac University Poll is a solid polling resource for presidential and state party politics  

The C.I.A.World Factbook

the C.I.A. World Factbook is your portal to basic information about foreign countries – politics and government, population and social statistics, land, religious and economic data.  Published by the U.S. government; it’s a solid primary source and a must have on any virtual library shelf.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics should be your first source when looking for national economic data – employment and earnings, productivity, consumer price index, unemployment rate.

 

Secondary Sources provide interpretation and analysis of primary sources; e.g.  Reviews of music, art or literature, directories, LexisNexis database searches for magazine or newspaper articles about events and people, political commentary, editorials, encyclopedias…

A Selection of Secondary Sources

NYCEconomic Development Corporation

NYC’s Economic Development Corporation produces monthly economic snapshots, and current migration and immigration data, have a look at the snapshots of industries that are driving the economy of New York City

Factcheck.org

http://www.factcheck.org/  (use the ‘search’ box).  Monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases.  Courtesy of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania. 

Facts on File News Services

Facts on File is a premier source for verifying dates, times, election results, natural disasters, wars, international and domestic news events.  News reports start in 1940 and continue today

Columbia Gazetteer of the World  

The Columbia Gazetteer is a basic geographic reference tool which should populate every reference shelf.  When you are trying to verify the spelling of cities and towns and oceans and villages, get comfortable with the gazetteer; added bonus is found in the good descriptions of each location – economy, principal crops…

Verifying Information Found in Social Media Networks

We can’t close out our time together without addressing the increasing use of social media by globally established publishers. journalists, activists of all stripes and John and Jane Q. Witness to share breaking and other news.

As journalists, you must apply the same degree of skepticism when contemplating a decision to use UGC (user generated content) to amplify or confirm a fact in your story; performing due diligence – by confirming its originality, identifying the source, that is, who made it, determining the date the video was created, and ascertaining where the video was taken – are all requisite best practices.

Contacting the original owner and uploader of this video becomes an imperative and the goal; it’s necessary to find its origin in order to get permission of use the video

Much has been written about the pitfalls that journalists must avoid when fact-checking social media content.  I recommend The Verification Handbook and in particular chapter 3, Verifying User-Generated Content.

Storify offers a number of case studies which walk you through the process of finding and contacting video uploaders, and also recognizing fake content; take a moment to review them.

This particular example by Storify finding video uploads, addresses the step-by-step fact-checking process required if you decide to use (in this case ) a YouTube video in your story.

Let’s fact-check this YouTube video NYC Protest

 

Why Bother?

“It’s much better to look for documentary evidence than it is to accept some whispered tale that somebody has put in your ear.”  – Brooks Jackson, director, Factcheck.org

Errors

Published errors take away from the credibility of the journalist, and tarnishes the character and reputation of the publisher; being willing to admit and correct mistakes will only improve a publication’s stature.

Publishers today provide error report forms on their websites, and have encouraged readers to identify and submit corrections.

Slate’s Mistakes

NYTimes Corrections

Washington Post Corrections

 

 

 

 

 

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